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Hahn Rechtsanwälte Partnerschaft (hrp) bereitet eine erste Pilotklage gegen die Alternative Capital Invest GmbH & Co. KG (ACI), die beiden Treuhandkommanditistinnen sowie die Hamburger Finanzkontor GmbH & Co. KG vor und wird die Klage in den nächsten Tagen beim Landgericht Hamburg einreichen. Dabei macht die Ehefrau des Anlegers die Schadensersatzansprüche aus abgetretenem Recht geltend.

Ein Hamburger Kaufmann hatte sich in den Jahren 2005 und 2006 als Privatanleger auf Empfehlung seines Anlageberaters unter anderem an der Alternative Capital Invest GmbH & Co. II bzw. III. Dubai Tower KG beteiligt und ihm ist dadurch ein Schaden von etwa 245.000,00 EUR entstanden. Nach Auffassung von hrp hat sich die ACI schadensersatzpflichtig gemacht. Aufgrund der Angaben der in den Prospekten abgedruckten Gesellschaftsverträge muss der Leser zu dem Ergebnis gelangen, dass die  Fondsgesellschaften die Grundstücke in eigenem Namen halten. Dies ist in der Praxis jedoch nicht der Fall. Bei der III. Dubai Fonds Tower KG ist die sogenannte „Dubai Branch“, die als unselbständige Niederlassung der Komplementärin in Dubai eingetragen ist, als Treuhänderin für die Fondsgesellschaft Eigentümerin des Grundstücks. Das Grundstück der II. Dubai Fonds Tower KG wird weiterhin von der Verkäuferin als Eigentümerin gehalten.

Es macht aus Sicht von hrp einen großen Unterschied, ob die Fondsgesellschaft oder deren Komplementärin Eigentümerin eines Grundstücks ist. Hinzu kommt, dass die ACI Branch ohne Genehmigung der Anleger die registrierten Käufer der II. Dubai Fonds Tower KG auf die III. Dubai Tower KG übertragen hat. Dies könnte den Straftatbestand der Untreue verwirklichen. Mittlerweile hat auch die Staatsanwaltschaft Bielefeld ein Ermittlungsverfahren gegen Verantwortliche der ACI eingeleitet und am 22.06.2010 die Büroräume der ACI in Gütersloh durchsucht. In einer Presseerklärung vom 24.06.2010 teilt die Staatsanwaltschaft diesbezüglich mit, dass die gewonnenen Erkenntnisse den Verdacht des Kapitalanlagebetruges bisher nicht erhärten konnten. Eine genaue Auswertung der vorgefundenen Unterlagen bleibe insoweit abzuwarten.

Nach Auffassung von Anlegeranwalt Peter Hahn aus Hamburg wird es höchste Zeit, dass die Gesellschafter der verschiedenen ACI-Dubai-Fonds sich untereinander austauschen und zivilrechtlich durch einen Fachanwalt die Geltendmachung von Schadensersatzansprüchen prüfen lassen. „Insbesondere Anleger mit einer eintrittspflichtigen Rechtsschutzversicherung sollten sich von den Verantwortlichen der ACI nicht weiter vertrösten lassen. Wenn die Anleger weiterhin nichts unternehmen“, so Anwalt Hahn weiter, „droht eine Verjährung ihrer Schadensersatzansprüche“.

Hamburg: 30.07.2010

Mehr als 200 Millionen Euro hat das Emissionshaus ACI aus Gütersloh bei Tausenden Anlegern eingesammelt, um damit traumhafte Immobilienprojekte in Dubai zu finanzieren. Doch nun ermittelt die Staatsanwaltschaft. Sie geht dem Verdacht auf Betrug nach.

Hamburg – Die Staatsanwaltschaft Bielefeld hat am Dienstag mehrere Geschäftsräume des Emissionshauses Alternative Capital Invest (ACI) in Gütersloh durchsucht. Nach Informationen von manager magazin inspizierten die Beamten zudem Privaträume von ACI-Verantwortlichen.

Nach Auskunft der Staatsanwaltschaft geht sie dem Verdacht auf Kapitalanlagebetrug nach. Es werde geprüft, ob “im Zusammenhang mit dem Vertrieb von Beteiligungen an geschlossenen Immobilienfonds unrichtige Angaben gemacht worden sind und ob diese gegebenenfalls für die Entscheidung der Anleger, sich an den Fonds zu beteiligen, erheblich waren”, heißt es in einer Mitteilung.

Die bei der Razzia gewonnenen Erkenntnisse hätten den Verdacht bisher nicht erhärten können, teilte die Staatsanwaltschaft weiter mit. Eine genaue Auswertung der vorgefundenen Unterlagen bleibe abzuwarten.

Die Ermittlungen gehen zurück auf eine Anzeige von Rainer R., ehemals Vertriebspartner von ACI und nach Informationen von manager magazin selbst im hohen fünfstelligen Bereich an den Fonds des Unternehmens beteiligt. “Wir halten einige Fondsprospekte für fehlerhaft”, fasst Hartmut Göddecke, Anwalt von R., die Vorwürfe zusammen. “Zudem sind bei zwei Beteiligungsgesellschaften die Eigentumsverhältnisse der Grundstücke unklar und wir haben Zweifel an der Seriosität von Fondskalkulationen.” Bei ACI war für eine Stellungnahme zunächst niemand zu erreichen.

Mehr als 8000 Anleger haben in den Fonds investiert

Die ACI gilt hierzulande als größter Anbieter von Kapitalanlagen mit Investitionsziel Dubai. Mehr als 8000 Anleger haben bislang mehr als 200 Millionen Euro in Fonds des Unternehmens investiert. Projekte mit einem Volumen von mehr als 600 Millionen Euro sollten mit dem Geld realisiert werden. Besonderes Markenzeichen von ACI ist dabei das sogenannte Tower-Branding, bei dem Prominente wie Michael Schumacher, Boris Becker und Niki Lauda den Projekten des Unternehmens ihren Namen leihen.

Seit die Finanzkrise den Boom in Dubai vorerst beendet hat, läuft aber auch bei ACI nicht mehr viel rund. 2009 platzte der Verkauf mehrerer Immobilien aus vier Fonds des Unternehmens, der den Anlegern Rückflüsse in Höhe von mehr als 120 Millionen Euro bringen sollte. Mit den Folgen dieses Flops schlagen sich die Investoren nach Angaben von Anwalt Göddecke noch heute herum.

Die Verkäufe seien von ACI trotz allem verbucht und den Investoren eine Gewinnzuweisung zugeteilt worden, sagt Göddecke. “Der Fiskus hat auf die Scheingewinne prompt Steuern kassiert.” Die steuerliche Mehrbelastung könne sich in Einzelfällen auf fünfstellige Beträge summieren. Auch dazu war von ACI keine Stellungnahme zu bekommen.

ACI ist nicht der erste Dubai-Initiator, der seinen Anlegern wenig Freude bereitet. Vor wenigen Jahren scheiterte der umtriebige Finanzwirt Georg R. aus Hamm bei dem Versuch, sich als Fonds-Initiator zu positionieren. Aus seinem Hotelprojekt, für das er mindestens 20 Millionen Euro bei Anlegern eingesammelt hat, wurde bis heute nichts. Auch R. geriet schnell ins Visier der Staatsanwaltschaft.

Hundreds of property buyers in the long-delayed Ivory Tower project in Dubai fear they will lose their cash after work on the development stopped and consultants were called in to staff its Deira offices.

Ivory Tower, planned in the International Media Production Zone (IMPZ), was fully sold off-plan in 2006 and is now almost two years late.

Mohammed Binghalib, the former director of the developer Sokook Investment Group, said he was “not with the company any more”. The company’s website has also been closed and is to be updated, says a message on the site. Sokook’s office in Deira was manned by a consultant from Homes Real Estate yesterday.

The consultant said the developer had hired his company, based in Dubai, to compile a “feasibility report” on the 700 customers who bought units in the sprawling 20-storey Ivory Tower.

Foundation work began at the site last summer but was stalled recently because most investors had stopped paying, said Khaled Mahmood, the consultant from Homes Real Estate.

“I have to make a report to Sokook to see who is paying them and who isn’t,” he said.

“For people who have paid more than 30 per cent, their money is in safe hands because they won’t pay any more until we start construction again; for those who have paid less but don’t want to pay any more, we will forfeit them. Our construction is on hold because of the people who only paid 10 or 15 per cent.”

Mr Mahmood said the aim of the feasibility report was to find out how many investors were willing to continue with the project. If the development went ahead with, say, half the number of investors, the project would be scaled back by half, he said.

Mr Mahmood added that an option for buyers would be to transfer their investments to other projects in Dubai that were either completed or nearing completion.

This would have to be done through agreements with other developers, he said, as Sokook’s only project in Dubai was the Ivory Tower.

“If there is no trust left in the project, then we can talk with the customer and swap their investment to a developer who is more advanced.” He declined to name any developers with which Sokook had been in talks.

Mr Mahmood’s comments have done little to appease those who have waited almost four years for their homes to be built.

Investors formed an action group in 2008 when it became clear that the building would not be ready by the deadline, the middle of that year.

The original delay was caused by a dispute over the land with TECOM Investments, the master developer of IMPZ. The row was resolved only with the help of the Dubai Land Department in the summer of 2008.

Nigel Collins, an investor from the UK who bought four apartments in Ivory Tower in 2006, said many of the investors had given up the fight.

“It’s a catch-22 situation. I would be open to transferring my investment somewhere else if it means I can rent or sell that property.”

Source: The National

A property investor has been awarded a refund by Dubai Courts for an office unit he bought in a project that is 20 months behind schedule.

The British businessman Ron Oakeley bought two offices in a building in Dubai’s Business Bay that was to be named after the former Formula One racing driver Niki Lauda. The proposed Niki Lauda Twin Towers building was part of a trio of projects launched by Alternative Capital Invest (ACI) Real Estate, a German developer, in late 2007 that were to be named after famous sport stars.

He filed a lawsuit against ACI in March last year to try to recover more than Dh1 million (US$272,000) he had invested in the project, which was due to be completed this year but is about 20 months late.

According to a judgment from Dubai Courts that has been seen by The National, the courts rendered Mr Oakeley’s agreement with ACI for one of the units “void” and ordered the company to pay back Dh569,585, plus 5 per cent interest from the date Mr Oakeley started court proceedings.

The case was won because ACI had failed to register the property with Dubai’s Land Department, according to court documents. A property contract is valid only when it is registered with the department.

Mr Oakeley’s victory was muted, however, as he lost the case for a second unit on which he spent Dh695,000, because it was registered.

The investor is appealing against the second decision through Dubai’s Court of Cassation.

Despite spending thousands of dirhams taking the case to court, and risking losing the judgment on the first unit, Mr Oakeley said he would continue the fight.

“It’s like throwing good money after bad, but having two units makes it worthwhile,” he said.

With most developers grappling with a shortage of cash, Mr Oakeley also has the challenge of getting the court’s order enforced.

Unless a project is officially cancelled by Dubai’s Real Estate Regulatory Agency, cash kept in an escrow account, in which developers must by law deposit all investors’ money, must be used to fund construction, however long that might take.

“It’s all well and good getting a court order to get your money back, but does the developer have the money?” said Duane Keighran, the deputy head of property for the MENA region at the law firm Simmons and Simmons.

“There are a number of developers in town who wouldn’t have enough in the escrow account to refund investors; and money they do have will be used for construction. Investors can go to ACI themselves, with the court order and ask for the money, or the court can do it, but it’s unclear what the recourse would be after that.”

Saqer Engineering and Contracting Enterprises was awarded a contract in late 2008 to build the Niki Lauda project, but has since slowed work.

Mahmoud Younis, the managing partner at Saqer, said the project could take a further 20 months to complete.

“It’s ongoing but it is very slow … because of the cash flow,” he said.

Robin Lohmann, the managing director of ACI, was unavailable for comment yesterday.

Meanwhile, work on two other towers that were to be named after former tennis champion Boris Becker and the F1 driver Michael Schumacher is also behind schedule.

Becker also owns a share in the Boris Becker Beach Resort and Tennis Academy, a Dh3 billion resort planned by ACI on Al Marjan Island in Ras al Khaimah.

Source: The National

DUBAI // As an amateur photographer and property investor, Imre Solt found himself visiting construction sites throughout Dubai to document the progress of the rising skyline of Dubai on a daily basis. Now he is lucky to find a significant change at a project once a month.

“Sometimes I don’t take any photos at all because there is no progress,” says the Hungarian-born Mr Solt, who has captured the city’s growth in what he estimates are 100,000 pictures taken from the tops of tall buildings, helicopters and even a biplane. “There are a few buildings that have made very good progress, but I think more projects are on hold than before. Sometimes, there are just a few workers there.”

The numbers bear him out. More than a fifth of construction projects in Dubai have been put on hold or cancelled in the past year, with the remainder severely delayed, said Proleads, a construction information provider. Proleads also estimates that the number of construction workers in Dubai has declined 45 per cent from the peak of the property boom in 2008 to last month, a further sign of the city’s post-boom state.

The problems are not isolated to Dubai, with projects in Abu Dhabi, Ras al Khaimah and Ajman similarly stalled.

“You have this stalemate,” says Andrew Charlesworth, the head of capital markets at the property consultancy Jones Lang LaSalle. “We are not seeing any distressed sales come through. Banks are reluctant to foreclose. Buyers can’t make payments and developers can’t build.”

A prime example of the problems is Pier 8, a debris-strewn 16-storey concrete skeleton in the middle of the bustling Dubai Marina. A piece of twisted wire clamps together the site’s red-and-white gates. They have been closed since last March.

“The construction has slowed down because of the crisis, but we will be continuing the development of Pier 8 by the end of the first quarter or the second quarter,” says a spokesman for Abyaar Real Estate Development, the Kuwaiti developer of the project. “We already have an agreement with one of the local banks in Kuwait regarding financing the remaining floors.”

It would be easy to simplify the plight of Dubai’s developers as the natural aftermath of a boom. Property prices are estimated to have declined by as much as 50 per cent since reaching peaks in 2008, a period when quick resales of apartments and even whole buildings provided a lucrative business for speculators. Now, it would appear, they are paying the price.

The reality, of course, is more complicated. The number of projects that are stalled is dwarfed by the hundreds of projects that are going forward, albeit at a much slower pace in many cases. Many more were completed before the market went awry.

Other sites are bustling. A 10-minute walk from Pier 8, the twisting Infinity Tower by Cayan Investment and Development is rising rapidly. In a sign of accelerated construction plans, contractors are putting up the glass on lower floors, while workers pour concrete for new floors above.

In Dubai Marina, 18 projects are either delayed or on hold, according to an analysis by The National. Only five of those projects are more than three storeys high. The vast majority are either sandlots or foundations for buildings. In contrast, 36 projects in the Marina are actively under construction.

While the Marina may not show how Dubai developers are coping elsewhere with the downturn, it reveals the outlines of what industry analysts say is a clear trend: developers are working hard to complete projects that are well underway, but waiting until economic conditions improve to finish those that have not started.

In that sense, Abyaar’s Pier 8 tower, its rusty steel reinforcement bars covered by a green mesh for preservation, is an exception. The company’s project across the street is probably a better sign of the trend.

The Ice Tower, a planned 30-floor tower that was launched in 2008, is “on hold for sure”, the Abyaar spokesman says. That project’s site is nothing more than a fenced-off patch of sand.

“Everyone knows we have delayed,” the spokesman says. “The projects have been delayed because of the financing situation. To convince a bank to offer you money for something in Dubai, it’s not very easy.”

As the statistics show, there are many projects in Dubai that also are in limbo, such as Pier 8 or The Pad, a Zaha Hadid-designed apartment tower at Business Bay that the developer, Omniyat Properties, describes as being in the shape of an iPod. The Pad is a few floors high, but Omniyat has put it on hold.

Omniyat’s problem has been the knock-on effect of Dubai’s debt crisis. Dubai is estimated to owe more than US$80 billion (Dh293.84bn) to local and international creditors, much of which it used to build the roads, bridges, power lines and other infrastructure to service projects such as Omniyat’s. With credit markets still largely closed and construction delayed, however, stalled roads and services are forcing a rethink for some developers.

“The new completion dates will be dependent upon and consistent with the master developer’s permanent infrastructure delivery dates,” the Omniyat spokeswoman says. Business Bay’s master developer is Dubai Properties, an arm of the Dubai Government-owned group, Dubai Holding.

Haroon Mahmood, the chief executive of MiNC Property Enterprises, said that his company’s 16-floor, serviced apartment building, Marina Suites, had been marooned on a concrete island.

“We were under construction and one day the contractors arrived at work to find there was no road there,” says Mr Mahmood, whose company bought the project from Sheffield Real Estate and sold it to investors. “We had no forewarning and when we talked to them they said come back in two-and-a-half years’ time.”

The site is now accessible, but the delay has eaten through most of the money invested in the project and the original contractor is suing for damages. Still, Mr Mahmood says he expects the complex to be built. Despite all the delays, he says the developer and investors could still make a profit on it.

“I think it will have to go forward at some point, because there’s so much riding on it,” he says. “I can’t imagine everyone walking away from something they’ve invested so much money and time in.”

Dubai’s project delays might have taken their greatest toll on investors and home buyers, rather than developers. A chorus of disgruntled investors has made waves in recent months, complaining about delays and attempts by developers to press them for more cash to get projects back on track. Back in the Marina, there are several brewing disputes, including at projects located just steps from Pier 8.

Hydra Properties says it will appeal against a court decision in favour of two property buyers in its troubled Hydra Village development.

The case, brought by two European women, was recently heard through the Court of Appeal in Abu Dhabi, a source close to the couple said.

If Hydra loses the appeal, the investors will be refunded the money they have so far paid to the project.

“In principle, they have won the case, and through the legal system they should have the money released to them,” said the source.

Between 10 and 20 more cases by investors were under way against Hydrawhile a further 150 claimants were seeking legal advice, the source said. The cases are being handled by MIO Lawyers and Legal Consultants, based in Abu Dhabi.

Ali bin Sulayem, the chief executive of Hydra Properties, said the company would appeal against the decision and it was still open to negotiating with investors out of court.

“I think that anyone, when there is a dispute, has the right to file cases,” he said. “This is our right to appeal, we have to use it. But I am sure the door of negotiation is still open. It does not mean that if a case is filed against our company that we cannot still find a way of settling this matter.”

The legal action is the consequence of a long-running battle between the investors and Hydra over contract changes, price rises on previously sold properties and demands to make payments for homes that are significantly delayed.

Talk of taking the firm to court started in June, when the Hydra Litigation Group was formed among members of the Hydra Investors Group. About 150 out of 350 people joined the litigation group, with about 50 per cent now pursuing the legal route, said Karl Howard, the co-chairman of the group.

Many of the investors had hoped to settle their contract issues – which included price hikes for property size increases due to an overhaul of the project’s masterplan – amicably with the firm.

But the final straw for most came recently when they received a letter, seen by The National, from Hydras legal department saying their units would be cancelled and all money kept if they failed to sign the new version of the contract by October 15.

“I don’t think you can threaten people to sign a contract that’s not acceptable,” said Graeme Perry, the deputy chairman of the Hydra Investors Group. “It’s got to the stage where people are saying ‘no’ and are lodging court cases.”

One investor, who has started legal proceedings and is hoping to recoup Dh450,000 (US$122,515), said: “We were trying to negotiate with HydraHydraLoading…, but then it got to the point when we realised there was no hope.”

Another investor, who has also started legal proceedings, said: “I’ve had enough now, it’s deeply frustrating. I’ve paid Dh400,000 and am not paying any more … I’m interested in getting out of this and getting my money back.”

More investors are expected to pursue legal action. “We do want to go ahead with it [legal action] as we don’t just want to sit back,” said Matt O’Hara, who has so far paid Dh250,000 towards a villa at Hydra Village.

“But we’re just weighing things up at the moment.”

A lawyer representing the investors at MIO declined to comment.

In June, Hydra tried to appease Hydra Village investors by giving those who had paid 50 per cent or more a payment break until the middle of next year, while penalties for late payment for those who had invested less were waived.

The company, which is owned by The Royal Group and at the time was headed up by Sulaiman al Fahim, the new owner of Portsmouth Football Club in England, also assured investors their homes would be built. The project was supposed to be delivered this year, but is now unlikely to be finished until 2011.

Hydrais one of dozens of developers that sold off-plan property to a market dominated by speculators during the boom, and which is now struggling to get buyers to keep up their payments. The situation has led to a rise in property disputes in Dubai, with Hydras being the first major dispute of its kind in Abu Dhabi.

According to Saud Masud, the head of research and senior analyst of real estate at UBS bank, many buyers did not question the fundamentals of their investments. Hydra Village was sold to investors with promises of a five-star hotel, swimming pools, fountains and significant green areas. But none of these features exist in the revised masterplan.

“In general, if you look at the amount of investment that flowed two years ago, you can’t really argue the case that they were sound investments,” Mr Masud said.

“It was about speculation. Investors didn’t really question the fundamentals of the company, the portfolio, timelines or finances. We all knew this was a pay-as-you-go model.”

Mr Masud said projects were being delayed before the fallout from the economic downturn. “The writing was already on the wall, even in 2006. Handovers were delayed significantly.”

By Angela Giuffrida and Nathalie Gillet
The National 2009

Die Suche nach den verschwundenen Geldern des deutschen Fondsanbieters Alternative Capital Investment (ACI) aus Gütersloh in Nordrhein-Westfalen geht weiter. Sind es in Deutschland und Österreich 8.000 Anleger, die um ihre eingezahlten mindestens 300 Millionen Euro bangen, streiten sich in Dubai zudem eine noch völlig unklare Anzahl vor Ort ansässiger Immobilienkäufer mit der ACI Real Estate LLC Dubai um – derzeit bekannt – 20 Millionen Euro (rund 100 Millionen Dirham). Die Dunkelziffer kann beim Vielfachen dessen liegen.

Aber gerade diese Immobilienkäufer – Engländer, Deutsche, Araber, Australier und so weiter, die allesamt in Dubai vor Ort als sogenannte „Expats“ leben -machen ACI-Chef Robin Lohmann (34) vor Ort richtig Feuer unterm Hintern. Ihnen kann Robin Lohmann die verwaisten Baugruben, Baufundamente oder hochgezogenen Aufzugsschächte für die Niki Lauda Twin Towers (seit November 2007), den Boris Becker Business Tower (seit Januar 2008) und die Michael Schumacher Business Avenue (seit Sommer 2008) nicht als nachhaltige Immobilienprojekte verkaufen. Die ACI scheint praktisch gar kein Sagen mehr über die Bauarbeiten zu haben und hat das Geld der Anleger wohl in einem komplizierten Spekulationssystem aufgerieben.

Die Immobilienkäufer vor Ort haben den ersten deutschen Fondsanbieter in Dubai bei Polizei und Staatsanwaltschaft angezeigt. Der indische Manager Sanjay Chimnani, der für ACI die Kontakte in die arabische Geschäftswelt herstellte, hat sich abgesetzt. Robin Lohmann und Teile seiner “Managerials” wurden für einen Tag festgenommen. Robin Lohmann musste nach erkennungsdienstlicher Behandlung nicht nur seinen deutschen Reisepass abgeben – er muss sich nun regelmäßig bei Polizei und Staatsanwaltschaft in Dubai melden, solange der finanzielle Schaden, den Lohmann in Dubai angerichtet hat, nicht beglichen ist.

Seit März 2009 warten in Deutschland 6.000 Anleger vergeblich auf eine Auszahlung für ihre Fonds II bis V (insgesamt hat die ACI sieben Fonds aufgelegt). Kein Grund für Robin Lohmann, deshalb auf persönlichen Luxus zu verzichten. Er wollte sich sogar ein Privatflugzeug kaufen. Zum Glück habe der Händler in Abu Dhabi sicherheitshalber in der Firmenzentrale in Gütersloh noch einmal nachgefragt haben, nachdem Robin Lohmann den Kaufvertrag über einen Lear Jet für Listenpreis bis zu 17 Millionen Euro unterschrieben hatte. Papa Uwe Lohmann (64) soll das Geschäft sofort storniert haben.

Das hinderte Robin Lohmann jedoch nicht, obwohl er schon einen Maybach und einen Ferrari besitzt, in Dubai vor etwa vier Wochen sechs weitere Luxuslimousinen Bentley Continental GT (je 200.000 Euro) zu bestellen. Da in Dubai die 6-Tage-Woche herrscht und nur der Freitag frei ist, orderte Lohmann anscheinend für jeden Werktag in Dubai einen Bentley – einen für Montag, einen für Dienstag und so weiter.

Für eine Stellungnahme sind die Lohmanns nicht zu erreichen. Statt den deutschen Anlegern endlich reinen Wein einzuschenken, veröffentlichte die ACI auf ihrer Internetseite alte Verleumdungsgeschichten gegen den Finanznachrichtendienst GoMoPa und seinen GoMoPa-Korrespondenten Martin Kraeter in Dubai.

Ein GoMoPa-Leser und Firmenconsulter (57) aus Panama teilte GoMoPa heute mit: “Die beiden Lohmanns sind doch Spinner. Die haben mich in Panama angeschrieben, da einer im Internet behauptet hatte, dass ich GoMoPa vor Jahren übernommen habe und der tatsächliche Inhaber sei. Ich habe diesen Spinner Lohman Junior dann angeschrieben und ihm mitgeteilt, dass er ja nun in einigen Wochen oder Monaten ohnehin im Rashidiya-Knast in Dubai sitzen würde und ob ich ihm denn vielleicht mit meinen Dienstleistungen meiner Firma Confidential Business weiterhelfen kann? Danach habe ich nichts mehr ghört. Es ist doch offensichtlich, dass die Anlegergelder nicht in die Projekte geflossen sind und auch nicht fließen.”

An dieser Stelle sei erklärt, dass der New Yorker Finanzachrichtendienst http://www.gomopa.net eine Gesellschaft ist, die über 100 Teilhabern gehört. GoMoPa hat wie jedes journalistische Medium in der Welt keinerlei Vorteil davon, ob die ACI im guten oder schlechten Licht dasteht.

Kraeter, der sowohl mit Fondsvermittlern (die jetzt in Erklärungsnot gegenüber ihren Mandanten sind) als auch mit Geschädigten in Dubai in engem Kontakt steht, beschreibt die ACI-Masche in Dubai wie folgt:

Kraeter: “Die ACI Masche hier vor Ort hat 2 Ausprägungen:
Nummer 1:
Ein Projekt wird beworben, Reservierungsgebühren werden vereinnahmt und nicht auf den Escrow Account (Treuhandkonto) eingezahlt, also höchstwahrscheinlich anderweitig verbuttert. Dann kommt zeitversetzt der Entwurf des Kaufvertrages, den viele Käufer wegen unzumutbarer Berechtigung von ACI zum Bauverzug ablehnen.

Statt die Vorauszahlungen zurückzuzahlen, wird aber behauptet, mit Zusendung des Vertrages sei eine rechtliche Basis gelegt worden, der Käufer habe zu erfüllen. Bezieht sich der Deal auf Projekte, die dann gecancelt werden, wird auch nicht zurückgezahlt. Der Käufer wird – ob er will oder nicht – umgeschichtet auf ein anderes Projekt. Wohlgemerkt, nachdem von seinen Zahlungen 20 Prozent (!!) Umschichtgebühren (das nennt man hier in Verbindung mit ACI “Hair Cut”) abgezogen wurden. Das heißt, ich will eigentlich zum Beispiel im PALAZZO ein Apartment und lande letztendlich im Niki Lauda Twin Towers.

Nummer 2:
Der Käufer schließt einen Kaufvertrag ab. Er zahlt 30 Prozent Kaufpreisraten. Der Kaufvertrag enthält einen Ratenplan nach Baufortschritt. Weitere 10 Prozent sind zu zahlen, wenn die Fundamente gelegt sind. Diese 10 Prozent fordert die ACI aber ein, nachdem nur die Baugrube ausgehoben wurde. Der Käufer weigert sich und pocht auf den Vertrag. ACI kündigt diesen wegen käuferseitigen Vertragsbruchs und zahlt gar nichts zurück. Vor Gericht trägt die ACI vor, sie hätten mit dem Tower gar nichts zu tun, seien nur Broker!!! Developer (Bauträger) sei DEFINE Properties LLC (inzwischen von ACI aus der Not heraus übernommen). Die haben aber die Kundenzahlungen nie gesehen. Der Escrow Account des Niki Lauda Towers müsste eigentlich mit 400 Millionen AED saldieren. Er ist aber laut HSBC-internen Informationen bei quasi NULL.

Die Geschädigten, mit denen wir in unmittelbarem Kontakt sind (und wir haben erst vor drei Tagen angefangen, die einzusammeln!!!!) streiten sich per heute insgesamt mit ACI um schlappe zirka 100 Millionen Dirham (das sind 20 Mio. EUR).

Die ACI-Immoblase belief sich auf 1,5 Milliarden Euro.

Das ist wohl aber nur die Spitze des Eisberges! ACI hat seine 19 Projekte hier in Dubai allesamt als Mischfinanzierungsprojekte aufgestellt. Das bedeutet: Ein Teil der Projektkosten wird mit Anlegergeldern untersetzt, ein weiterer Teil mit Vorabverkäufen an Käufer vor Ort und der Rest mittels Bankkrediten.

Von 2006 bis Sommer 2008 war die üblicherweise von den Banken geforderte Eigenkapitalbasis (das sind die Gelder der deutschen Anleger) bei 10 bis 20 Prozent. Das bedeutet bei zum Beispiel 300 Millionen Euro Anlegergeldern einen sagenhaften Hebel: ACI konnte theoretisch mit Hilfe von Vorabverkäufen hier in Dubai einen “Projektballon” von bis zu 1,5 Milliarden Euro (7,5 Milliarden Dirhams) aufblasen. Da wird erst die eigentliche Dimension des sich anbahnenden Desasters deutlich – nicht nur für Anleger in Deutschland, sondern auch für kleine Immobilienkäufer in Dubai und die Marke Dubai an sich.”

Inzwischen lassen zwei deutsche Geschädigte (Anlagen von 100.000 und 50.000 Euro) über die Berliner Rechtsanwaltskanzlei Dr. Thomas Schulte Haftungsansprüche gegenüber Niki Lauda, Michael Schumacher und Boris Becker prüfen. Lauda gab für eine Million Euro, Schumacher für fünf Millionen Euro und Becker für zwei Millionen Euro ihren Namen für die Projekttürme der ACI,ohne die Projekte näher geprüft zu haben.

In Deutschland gibt es bereits mehrere Urteile, wonach Prominente deshalb Anleger entschädigen mussten. Darunter auch der Ex- Verteidigungsminister und Juraprofessor Dr. Rupert Scholz (Landgericht Mosbach, Aktenzeichen: 10135/06). Viele Anleger zahlten nur im Vertrauen gegenüber den Prominenten. Umgekehrt haben Lauda, Schumacher und Becker nicht einen Cent in die Projekte Lohmanns investiert.

Dubai schuf neue Immobilienaufsichtsbehörde und ermittelt gegen ACI.

Dubai hat zur besseren Regulierung der Schneeballsysteme des schnellen Abverkaufs von noch gar nicht gebauten Wohn- und Bürotürmen im Oktober 2008 eine Behörde gegründet: Die Immobilienaufsicht Real Estate Regulatory Authority (RERA). Laut dem arabischen Nachrichtendienst ArabianBusiness ermittelt die RERA gegen die ACI wegen geplatzter Schecks, Scheinbesitz an Grundstücken und Zweckentfremdung anvertrauter Gelder. Der Chef der RERA, Marwan Bin Ghalita, wird mit den Worten zitiert, dass seine Behörde gegen die ACI insbesondere bei dem internationalen Vorzeigeobjekt Niki Lauda Twin Towers überprüft, ob und inwieweit Gelder unrechtmäßig erlangt und verwendet wurden. Die ACI habe offenbar gegen Dubais Gesetze und Vorgaben verstoßen.

In Dubai wird weiter an der Stadt von übermorgen gebaut.

Dubai selbst hat als Retortenstadt in der Wüste durch die ACI-Pleite nur einen kleinen Kratzer abbekommen. An 600 Türmen wird weiter gearbeitet. Im Sommer soll der zweite Flughafen von Dubai (Dubai World Airport) fertig sein, der den Charles de Gaulle Flughafen in Paris und den John F Kennedy Airport in New York in die Westentasche stecken kann. Es ist der einzige Flughafen der Welt, an dem dann Riesen-Airbusse A380 ohne jedwede Wartezeit abgefertigt werden können. Er ist für Transitreisende ausgelegt. Gepäckstücke kreisen so lange auf einer gigantischen Gepäckumlaufbahn von der deutschen Firma Siemens, bis sie gebraucht werden. Eine Lagerhalle gibt es nicht. Der alles überragende Flugtower, der von Franzosen gebaut wurde, bekam von innen beheizte Scheiben, damit sie wegen der großen Außenhitze und klimatisierten Innenkühle nicht beschlagen. Ob der Flughafen von dem bereits ein Rollfeld und eine provisorische Abfertigungshalle in Betrieb sind, jemals ausgelastet wird, spielt in Dubai keine Rolle. Das Motto der Ölscheichs lautet: Wir stellen etwas hin, dann kommt die Welt von allein zu uns.

Das Konzept schien aufzugehen. Um die künstlichen Palmeninseln oder das einzige Sieben-Sterne-Hotel der Welt (Burj Al Arab) zu sehen, kamen im vergangenen Jahr rund 6 Millionen Touristen nach Dubai. Nach Australien reisten 7 Millionen Besucher. Der Unterschied: Viele Besucher von Dubai kommen nicht wieder, vor allem wenn sie im Sommer da waren. Künstliche Dinge schaut man sich nur ein Mal an.

Und für Dubai eröffnen sich bei dem Eingriff in die Natur ungeahnte Probleme. Während Schiffe weiterhin den Meeresboden aufsaugen, um einen künstlichen Erdanblick aus dem All in Inselform anzuschütten (Wüstensand ist dafür zu feinkörnig), besteht in den dicht bebauten Siedlungen auf den künstlich aufgeschütteten Palmenblätterinseln bald Seuchengefahr. Das Wasser hat keine natürliche Strömung und steht in den Palmenfächerdümpeln. Fäulnis macht sich breit. Dubai versucht nun, mit Umwälzpumpen Leben in die Gewässer zu bringen.

Und noch ein Problem ist noch nicht gelöst: Jeden Tag bildet sich vor den Toren Dubais eine lange Schlange von Fäkalienlastern. Die Kläranlage ist viel zu klein und dem Ansturm nicht gewachsen. Bis zu 48 Stunden müssen die Fahrer warten, bis sie ihre Ladung los werden. Sie werden aber nicht nach Stunden bezahlt, sondern nach Ladungen. Niemand mag die dadurch begründeten illegalen Verkippungen mitten in die Wüste wirklich zählen.

Und noch eine Schattenseite begleitet den Bau der Retortenstadt. Es gibt noch zu wenige große Vorzeigebaustellen, bei denen der Arbeitsschutz eingehalten wird. Die meisten Baustellen sind nicht einsehbar. 800 Bauarbeiter fanden bislang in Dubai bei Arbeitsunfällen der letzten 5 Jahre den Tod. Die meisten Arbeiter wohnen in sogenannten Labour Camps am Rande der Stadt. Immer zehn Mann auf einem Zimmer. Einen persönlichen Bereich für Wertsachen hat niemand. Der Mindest-Monatslohn für ungelernte Kräfte liegt bei 150 Euro.

Trotz oder wegen dieser Wachstumskrankheiten – man darf nicht vergessen, dass alles, was Dubai heute ausmacht, gerade mal in den letzten 10 bis 15 Jahren entstanden ist – wird Dubai in gleicher atemberaubender Geschwindigkeit in Bezug auf die Eindämmung von Missständen “erwachsen”: Es gibt neue Gesetze zur Regulierung des Immobilienmarktes, neue strenge Bau- und Betriebsvorschriften für Arbeiterunterkünfte. Baufirmen beschweren sich bereits über bis zu 10 Prozent Arbeitszeitverluste wegen der nun vorgeschriebenen Sicherheitsunterweisungen. Dubai hat als erste Stadt der Welt außerhalb der USA eine generellen „Green Building Standard“ nach US-Muster. Seit heute, also dem 01. Juli 2009, gibt es eine eigene Regierungshotline für die Meldung von Beamtenkorruption.

Und auch die Löhne steigen analog zum Dollarverfall, wobei schon jetzt Durchschnitts-Baulöhne von zirka 300 Euro bei den Gastarbeitern vom Subkontinent dort zuhause ganze Familien ernähren und Wohlstand angedeihen lassen – wie überall eine Frage der lokalen Kaufkraft. Die Arbeiter können die verdienten 300 Euro komplett nach Hause schicken, weil der Arbeitgeber in Dubai alle sonstigen Kosten (außer Zigaretten) wie Unterkunft, Essen, Trinken und Arzt übernimmt.

Für den ehemaligen Dubai-Consulter und jetzige Geschäftsführer von Königs Immobilien auf Sylt (Nordfriesland), Dieter Rödel, bleibt Dubai das Paradies auf Erden: “Sie finden dort alles Schöne auf einen Fleck vereint, wofür Sie sonst eine Weltreise unternehmen müssten.”

Für den Wirtschaftstreuhänder und GoMoPa-Korrespondenten Martin Kraeter ist Dubai ein lohnenswerter Markt mit einem einzigartigen Wachstum, bei dem man aber auch nichts geschenkt bekommt: “Dubai ist in erster Linie viel Arbeit, die sich mit dem richtigen Partner aber auch auszahlt. Niemand wird Dubai die Funktion als Drehscheibe im Mittleren Osten streitig machen können – hier ist der Aktionspunkt zwischen Westen, Arabien und Asien.”

Source: http://www.gomopa.net

Master developer Nakheel on Monday hit back at claims made by Dubai property group ACI Real Estate – and insisted its Waterfront mega-project was going ahead.

Robin Lohmann, managing director of ACI Real Estate, in an interview with Arabian Business this week, blamed the state-owned developer for a lack of progress on his flagship Ferretti Luxury Beach Residence and Pershing Luxury Beach Residence projects, located in the Madinat Al Arab area of the Nakheel’s Waterfront development in Jebel Ali.

“We have invested in several plots in Dubai Waterfront. We need to know from the master developer of Waterfront, which is Nakheel, if they plan to go ahead with the project now or not. Once we have these answers we can give to answers our purchasers,” Lohmann said.

But in an emailed statement to Arabian Business Nakheel said it had handed over ACI’s two plots and the company was free to start construction.

“The two plots which ACI own at Madinat Al Arab have already been handed over,” a spokesman for Nakheel said.

“Waterfront has not been cancelled. Our current focus at Waterfront is on Badrah, Veneto, and Madinat Al Arab. Work continues to make good progress at these sites,” the spokesman added.

The Madinat Al Arab phase of the Waterfront is due for completion in 2015. Other sub-developers such as Plus Properties have started construction at Madinat on its Pixel Tower and Wave Residence projects.

“At Madinat Al Arab, we remain committed to providing infrastructure to third party developers as per their Sales and Purchase Agreements. The majority of plots in this phase have been handed over with some third party developers already mobilised on-site,” the Nakheel spokesman added.

Dubai-based property developer and investment company ACI Real Estate, is a division ACI (Alternative Capital Invest) Group, a German firm with interests in asset management and real estate.

The Waterfront is a planned seaside mega project, twice the size of Hong Kong. It is being built over six phases and completion dates range from 2010 to 2018.

Nakheel said in December the Madinat Al Arab, Veneto, Badra and Canal District phases of the Waterfront were pressing ahead, while other sections would be delayed in the wake of the global crisis.

Robin Lohmann was once the darling of the Dubai property industry, with sporting legends including Michael Schumacher and Boris Becker lining up to do business with him. Today, amid a massive property market crash, his company ACI is at the centre of a storm, following a series of allegations over what happened to his investors’ cash. He spoke exclusively to Alex Delmar-Morgan and Anil Bhoyrul.

Robin fullIt’s January 2008 and Robin Lohmann couldn’t be happier. He has just given a joint press conference with Michael Schumacher at the Jumeirah Beach Hotel, after which the ACI (Alternative Capital Invest) boss and the F1 legend jump into a golf buggy. They are pursued by the world’s media, eager for more. After all, Schumacher has won seven F1 titles, while Lohmann himself has also become a national hero back home in Germany. The property developer is the darling of the industry, thanks largely to his branded sports developments. He boasts of having over AED1bn already invested in Dubai, and everyone wants a slice of the action.

A farcical chase on golf buggies ends at the hotel’s conference centre, where Lohmann agrees to do one-to-one interviews. “You all need to calm down. Michael and I are not going anywhere,” he tells us.

Eighteen months is a long time in the property industry. Lohmann, managing director of ACI, is still not “going anywhere,” as authorities investigate complaints from investors. House prices have plunged 50 percent or more. Investors expecting their first big cheques in March this year from his development fund are still waiting. Construction is either slow or non-existent on many flagship projects. His ventures on Nakheel’s Waterfront development, which he says have left him, his group and partners high and dry to the tune of AED800m ($217.8m), have completely stalled. Accusations and counter-accusations are coming faster than Schumacher in a Ferrari.

For a man under pressure, Lohmann is well turned out in a crisply ironed white shirt, suit trousers and black shoes. But he looks tired, a man with a lot on his plate. “Of course I am stressed. Wouldn’t you be?” he sighs.

So what’s gone wrong? Lohmann takes two hours to explain…

Personal allegations

Damaging allegations about Lohmann’s private life have been strewn all over the German press in recent weeks. These include claims he led a lavish lifestyle with the money of his investors, purchasing several expensive cars and a private jet. It has also been alleged that he transferred sums of money to South America, and that he is currently in the process of obtaining two new South American passports, for himself and his father, Uwe (who founded ACI).

“Nonsense,” he says, claiming that the allegations are the work of a German website, gomopa.net, which has its own agenda.

“I don’t have a private jet for €17m and my father never needed to cancel an order for a private jet anywhere in the world. After this nonsense was cleared up, the next idea was that I have purchased six Bentley Continental GTs, each for €200,000 ($277,893) so I could have one for each working day. This isn’t true, you can go to the RTA [Roads Transport Authority] and check for yourself.”

He also strongly rejects the claims that appeared last week suggesting he was planning to move to South America and had already transferred money there: “Maybe you will read in the future that I needed to buy 30 bicycles, one for each day in the month! The reason might be that I was not able to pay for my petrol anymore because I send all my money to Bahrain and Belize.”

He adds: “They say my father and myself have ordered two South American passports for €750,000 from a company in Panama. We are more than happy with our German passports and we never faced any problems with them.”

It has also been claimed that Lohmann’s former business partner, Sanjay Chimani, who was joint managing director of ACI, has returned to India after being investigated for having links to Indian tycoon Kabir Mulchandani, who was arrested by Dubai Police at the start of the year for suspected fraud.

A building in Dubai is fully covered with advertising signs announcing the launch of three ACI towers that carry the names of three sports legends.

He also strongly rejects the claims that appeared last week suggesting he was planning to move to South America and had already transferred money there: “Maybe you will read in the future that I needed to buy 30 bicycles, one for each day in the month! The reason might be that I was not able to pay for my petrol anymore because I send all my money to Bahrain and Belize.”

He adds: “They say my father and myself have ordered two South American passports for €750,000 from a company in Panama. We are more than happy with our German passports and we never faced any problems with them.”

It has also been claimed that Lohmann’s former business partner, Sanjay Chimani, who was joint managing director of ACI, has returned to India after being investigated for having links to Indian tycoon Kabir Mulchandani, who was arrested by Dubai Police at the start of the year for suspected fraud.

“Sanjay is now in India, but he was not an investor in ACI and not financially linked to the company,” says Lohmann.

He adds: “For me there is no chance I will do a hit and run. You know why? Because I haven’t even collected the money I have invested and spent here. I’m not going ahead and losing AED500m ($136.1m), it’s not the way.”

ACI property development funds

Much of the controversy centres on ACI’s funds, used to finance residential and commercial real estate projects in Dubai, of which there were seven.

The model was simple: money from the funds would be used to purchase a plot to develop a project, ACI Real Estate LLC would would ‘flip’ the building to several buyers for a profit. Investors would then be able to redeem their money, plus a profit, and the company would see a healthy return. German investors paid around €50m (AED257m) into these funds. So what went wrong and why are there a group of angry German investors claiming they have been owed money since March?

Lohmann explains that there has been a lot of “nonsense” spoken. The first fund was for a project in Jumeirah Lake Towers, for which all investors have been paid, he claims.

“We started in 2004 with Jumeirah Lake Towers. We bought it at AED 600 per square foot, and sold it for AED 1800 per square foot in 2008 – a 300 percent increase in four years,” he says.

Robin CashFunds six and seven related to investments in the sports-branded Michael Schumacher and Nikki Lauder developments – but payments from these projects are not, contrary to reports, due until 2012, he adds.

Which leaves funds two to five. Funds two and three were used for ACI’s City of Arabia development, fund four for Business Bay and fund five for Victory Bay. Investors expecting a payment due from these in March this year are still waiting – and will have to keep waiting.“Giving money back is not an option as this point in time. The money has been invested in the land, which is fully paid for, and the money has been spent in the development, which is normal – the contractor and suppliers are not working for free,” Lohmann says. “The only way to get the money back is to complete the building from our side, and third party purchasers have to fulfill their payment obligations as well.”

He is equally blunt on the subject of direct property investors: “What investors don’t understand is that I have not sold anything for the last seven months. Listen, if you bought Emaar stock for AED 20 and it went to AED 2, you don’t go to Mohammed Alabbar and say ‘I want my money back’.”

He adds: “To liquidate anything in this kind of market scenario is very difficult. The market as well as the investors need to have some patience.”

Additional security for investors

Lohmann has faced calls from his German investors to pay them the money they say they were owed in March. He says he doesn’t have it, but claims he is prepared to offer them additional security as a gesture of goodwill in the form of off-plan properties owned by Falcon International Investment Group.

Many investors have criticised this move, saying they do not know enough about Falcon and the value of its assets.

Lohmann says: “What I don’t understand is why we are getting blamed for this kind of action. We wanted to show them alternative solutions, we wanted to show them that we are working on solutions, but right now we can’t give them the due amount back because we are not able to liquidate anything.

“We have provided investors with assets exceeding double the amount which was due to them in March plus they still have their original investment in the developments.”

Branded sports towers

In January last year, ACI launched three towers using famous sports stars as branding partners: German F1 champion Michael Schumacher, Austrian racing driver Niki Lauder and Wimbledon tennis champion Boris Becker. At the time, the move was hailed a branding masterstroke as investors raced to snap up units and entire floors of the projects.

Eighteen months down the line, construction is severely delayed, with Schumacher Business Avenue a year behind schedule after having completed shoring and piling. The new main contractor has been appointed and is currently mobilizing the construction side of the project. It is now due for completion in the summer of 2011.

Lohmann predicts the Boris Becker Business Tower, which is built up to the second floor, will be finished in the second quarter of 2010.

The situation with the branded towers, Lohmann says, has been complicated by South Korean construction firm Shinsung, which was awarded two contracts worth $408m in February 2008 to build the developments. The company, however, filed for protection from bankruptcy in December last year. ACI duly terminated its contract with Shinsung on the Schumacher scheme, but because construction has already started on the Boris Becker project, Lohmann has been left with another headache.

“On the Boris Becker tower, we have faced a problem because the project is already up to the second floor. So to change the main contractor is difficult,” he explains. “The other contractor will have to build to the nineteenth floor. You can’t resolve it overnight.”

For the time being, of more concern to ACI is the level of investor defaults on its projects. Lohmann says this is the main reason for project delays – and he doesn’t mince his words:

“If everybody paid me on time, then I could progress on the site much faster,” he shouts. “The Boris Becker tower will be ready in the second quarter of 2010 and Schumacher will take two years from now, but only if people pay. If people don’t pay, we will have to slow down more.

“The branded towers are all under construction and will remain under construction. And because they are under construction, you [the investors] have no right to get your money back, your right is to pay me.”

Problems with RERA

Reports last year claimed that ACI was under investigation by Dubai property watchdog RERA (the Real Estate Regulatory Authority). Lohmann says this is “nonsense,” and that “no investigation has ever taken place.”

However, he complains that the Dubai Land Department has recently tightened certain laws, prohibiting developers from single-handedly terminating investor contracts.

The newly introduced Law 9, Lohmann claims, means developers now have to send three payment reminders and a legal notice to an investor who has defaulted, before handing over documents to RERA. It is RERA who then decides whether to cancel the contract.

He explains: “We do not have the strength any more to sit with the investors and to push them for payments. Some of the investors don’t consider payment reminders and legal notices anymore. They wait to receive the final payment reminder from RERA, which grants them another thirty days to make their overdue payments.

“Since all of our projects have construction-linked payment plans, we have to work very closely with our contractors to match the necessary cash flow.”

The Waterfront

Lohmann’s most pressing concern is when Nakheel’s Waterfront development, a seaside mega-project in Jebel Ali planned to be twice the size of Hong Kong, will be built.

He claims to have invested within the group and his partners AED800m in plots on the project, money he can claim back only if the project is cancelled rather than postponed.

Part of the AED800m is assigned to the development of ACI’s flagship Ferretti Luxury Beach Residence and Pershing Luxury Beach Residence projects. Many of the investors in these projects are demanding their money back and, given the lack of any construction progress, are growing increasingly restless.

Lohmann explains that he cannot give his investors an answer on the status of the projects because he himself doesn’t have one: “We have invested in several plots in Dubai Waterfront. We need to know from the master developer of Waterfront, which is Nakheel, if they plan to go ahead with the project now or not. Once we have these answers we can give to our investors answers.”

Source: http://www.arabianbusiness.com/561496-robins-return

Source: http://www.arabianbusiness.com

It was in the late nineties that the government decided to allow foreign ownership of land in Dubai, thereby effectively releasing the biggest genie from a bottle the Gulf had seen since someone, many moons ago, decided to investigate what the black sticky stuff in the sand was.

Robin CashFrom the start, my father was incredibly sniffy about the whole idea. When expatriates were first allowed to buy flats, in towers where the Marina now is, he pointed out that the flats were pokey, and the infrastructure was poor.

Thereafter, on each occasion that I returned to Dubai for university holidays, he would respond to my gasps of amazement about the pace of development in the emirate with grim predictions. “It is a bubble,” he would say. “The whole thing is going to go pop. Who is going to live in these flats? Construction workers? And what happens when they’re finished and go home?”

For ten long years, Dubai and the property market defied my father. While he determinedly stood on the sidelines, millionaires were made daily by the dozen, and the machine became ever more rampant and sophisticated.

Where, at the start of the 2000’s, frowsy housewives used to apologetically show potential buyers around flats, by the second half of the decade the estate agency business was a jungle populated by the same type of sharp-eyed spivs in suits you’d find in any other major city. The developers were the same. There was a gold rush going on, and everyone except my father knew it.

Robin Lohmann, this week’s print issue cover star, certainly knew it. I first interviewed him in March last year, when he was in his pomp. He was a breath of fresh air. In an industry of frantic money-men, Lohmann was a well-mannered model of assured calm. From behind an unbelievably huge desk, in an office whose wall-to-wall windows looked out over the ocean, he spoke quietly and with intelligent certainty. Not only was he making incredible sums of money, but he was happy to talk about how it was done.

He said he had 8,000 global investors, that he could sell entire buildings in two hours, and that construction of his celebrity branded towers would cost 1.5 billion dirhams. He even talked of profit margins of close to fifty percent.

In those days, of course, the world was a different place. We were all on the brink of something massive. To his credit, Lohmann saw it coming, but he thought it would only strengthen Dubai’s property story. He said: “I am quite surprised the stock market is still so stable. I was expecting a worse crash. It will come. Am I worried? No. There is so much money coming into Dubai from the rest of the world, from countries where economies are slowing. From Russia, from India, from Turkey. And then there are institutional investors coming. In America and Europe, you make six percent rental returns, maximum. Here you make up to twelve percent, tax free. This market is a huge, huge opportunity.”

Back then, Lohmann was the poster boy for the Dubai property story. His investors would no doubt beg to differ with me, but there is something sad about seeing him brought so low today by the unwinding of the market. Those investors believe that Lohmann is being frustratingly opaque in his dealings with them – they want to know where their cash has gone. But if what he says in our interview with him is true, then he is as much the victim of a lack of transparency as anyone who has given him money is. This interview is an effort at transparency, and Lohmann deserves credit for being man enough to do it. (I predict many more property developers will soon be spilling their hearts out, too: it’s funny how pressure makes people chatty).

Incidentally, I did eventually persuade my father to come into the market with me. In August last year, we were on the brink of buying a one bedroom apartment in the Marina for 2.5 million dirhams. I lost the mortgage forms at the last moment. We said we’d sort it out in when we returned from our respective holidays. Luckily, we never did.